The dumplings in chicken and dumplings are a type of steamed quick bread. The quick-rising dough, much like biscuit dough, cooks by floating on the chicken soup as it simmers beneath a lid.
These light dumplings are different from other types of dumplings in which the rolled pastry encloses some sort of sweet or savory filling. In her antebellum cookbook, "The Kentucky Housewife," Lettice Bryan describes cooking this type of dumpling as far back as 1839. In older recipes, the pastry often boiled in a fully submerged mesh bag until cooked. Then, the cook would pull out and unwrap the finished dumplings.